47. Chapter Forty-seven
No one had been able to offer a solution during the brief meeting before they broke camp. As Círdan put it, they were at the mercy of a man whose intentions were a matter of conjecture at best. Even if it had been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Ciryatur had taken the ring - which was not the case - acting on this knowledge would rob the Númenoreans of their commander, which would only create confusion and chaos in the ranks of their allies. Extremely put, in the blunt words of Gil-galad: if they would stoop to assassinate the Ciryatur with a well-aimed arrow, they would earn the enemy's lasting gratitude by causing their own defeat. (It was said rather wistfully, but Tárion doubted if Arto would have been able to loose the arrow. He was not even certain that he was ruthless enough to have done it himself.)
Outwardly, they clung to the possibility suggested by Glorfindel: if the Ciryatur had interrogated Beregar about his experiences with the ring, he could hardly have been communing with Sauron. So maybe he had not put the ring on his finger yet, and maybe this meant that he would not do so unless and until the Dark Lord's victory was within sight. But this was cold comfort at best.
At one point, Tárion had wanted to shout that it was madness what they were about to do. But if sanity alone were to rule the world it would grow cold; right and wrong would be matters of mere calculation, of order without justice, testing the mind but not the heart and the will. If he was not prepared to live in such a world he had to be prepared to fight and to die.
With grim determination they set out behind the High King's blue banner with the twelve silver stars. The Sarn Ford was less than a day's march away now. According to the scouts' reports the casualties suffered by the orcs had not markedly diminished the strength of Sauron's army, and it still outnumbered theirs. The Númenorean reinforcements were approaching from Lond Daer, but they would be worse than worthless if the Ciryatur would change sides.
Though it did little to lift their mood, the High King and his captain could not help discussing the matter further while they rode to battle, occasionally looking to their right, where the banners and standards of the Númenoreans darkened part of the overcast sky. 'As I see it,' Gil-galad said after they had gone over all possibilities again, 'the worst that can happen is that he orders his entire army to join the Dark Lord's. In which case death will put and end to all worries.' His expression belied the flippancy of his tone.
Tárion had seen him cope better. He wished he could play down the threat by claiming that the chance of betrayal was small. But he knew too well that if he could not fool himself, he would not fool his lover either. The admiral had yielded up Beregar too easily, as if digging in his heels about so small a matter was not worth his while. That was out of character in a man so keen on prestige and formalities. It did not bode well. So, after a short silence, he decided on a different course.
'I doubt it would be the end for us,' he remarked. 'How do you think Mandos will judge us when we lose Endor to the Dark because an unresolved issue between the two of us held our attention while we should have been guarding a potentially dangerous artefact? Not to mention our silence regarding the errors of Celebrimbor?' If defeat was to be the outcome, their worries could very well last until the end of Arda, but there was no need to say this aloud.
'Are you trying to stamp out my remaining hopes?' Gil-galad inquired, not looking aside.
'Since when do we hope for death, who were meant to live?' Tárion refused to relent. 'But you did not speak of hope, Arto. If you had you would have remembered your great example Finrod, who clung to the estel that the One will never abandon His own children. Finrod knew that we are not meant to despair even if, and when, we are fated to fall. That is why we ride on and do not cease from fight - instead of turning tail and set sail while we still have the chance.'
Now Gil-galad did turn his head. His eyes glittered. 'Good speech... You know exactly when to mention Finrod, do you not, Valanya? You know it is also for him that I ride.'
As if he had needed the reminder. 'Just as I know that you would go on even without an army at your back, if you had to.'
Before they rode, Gil-galad had addressed his troops, warning them that reports proved the odds to be yet more uneven than it had appeared before and that everyone who so desired could retrace his or her steps to return to the Grey Havens and the ships waiting there. He had done everything he could to suggest that unexpected perils might lurk ahead without actually incriminating the Númenorean commander: the Ciryatur's liaison officers in the Elvish camp would be certain to take exception to this and inform their lord.
Not very surprisingly, none had left after the King's speech - though maybe there were a few who did, yet lacked the courage to show their lack of courage. Managing to keep a straight face Tárion went on: 'Not that you would have to go all alone, of course. What do you think - shall we set out tonight under the cover of darkness to snatch the Dark One from between his minions, you and I together?'
Gil-galad gave in and chuckled. 'Thank you for reminding me why I love you.'
'I knew the feeling was mutual.'
'Then let the clouds unfold!'(1) cried Gil-galad. He gripped Aiglos and raised the spear to the sky. A ripple of sound went through the ranks behind him, rising to a loud cheer.
For a moment Tárion actually felt the hope he had claimed for his king and his love.
Gildor worried him. His younger companion was uncharacteristically silent - much more so than after slaying Orgol in that valley south of the Havens. This time, Gildor was truly touched to the quick. Though it could have to do something with the uncertainty they faced, now that it seemed obvious that the Ciryatur had the accursed ring, Glorfindel doubted that it did. Whatever Gildor lacked, it was not courage, or he would never have crossed the Great Sea. Though to be entirely honest, he doubted if the coming battle loomed very large in Gildor's mind at all.
'Is it the thought of Zaba that ties your tongue?' Glorfindel asked.
A brief nod, but Gildor did not look up.
'You are blaming yourself for not keeping her out of that pavilion? Or for taking her along on this campaign in the first place?'
If there was another nod, it was almost imperceptible, as if it was painful for Gildor even to move his head.
You will have to do better, Glorfindel, he thought. 'If she was drawn to the ring, there was nothing you could have done short of gagging her, tying her up and dragging her away.'
'Glorfindel, it is not funny,' Gildor said in a strained voice.
'It was not my intention to be funny,' replied Glorfindel evenly. Should he leave the younger Elf to his own devices? But it hurt merely to look at him as he rode along, shoulders sagging, head bent, left arm dangling at his side, right hand holding the reins too loosely. If he had not been sitting atop a well-trained horse he would have fallen behind long ago. It was as if the usually cheerful, undaunted Gildor Inglorion - who had managed a jest even when his attempt to save Gil-galad almost cost him his life - had remained behind when they broke camp, leaving hardly more than a shell to ride to battle. Grief could kill the Eldar, though many more had perished by weapon or torment in the course of time. Some were known to have invited death by their own actions, and this was held to be a taint of the fëa. But as fate had placed Glorfindel at his side, there was a chance that Gildor would avoid being tainted thus, the other Elf vowed silently.
'Unburden yourself, Gildor,' he said, 'and your arm will wield the blade more easily for the sake of Middle-earth.'
With what looked like a tremendous effort Gildor looked up, and his gaze brushed Glorfindel's before it fled into the distance and beyond, as if it sought to detach itself from the visible world. Finally he spoke. 'What would you say. if I said that I loved Zaba? That I love her still, though she is gone?'
What was he saying? 'I do not see why she should not deserve to be loved her like any other child or Ilúvatar.'
'Not that way, Glorfindel.' Gildor's voice was barely audible. He took a deep breath. 'Call me the worst fool since Fëanor, but -'
'I saw Turgon's daughter fall in love with a mortal,' Glorfindel interrupted him, overcoming his initial shock. 'So why should I ever call such a thing foolish?'
Zaba did not resemble Tuor in the least. Her mother belonged to a people considered dark and savage. It could be that Gildor confused pity and sympathy with love. Yet how could anyone save Ilúvatar alone, judge the hearts of the Children? When Gildor failed to reply Glorfindel said: 'You fear that you will nevermore meet again, because it is said that the fates of Elves and mortals are sundered?' It was this anguished fear that had forced Lúthien's spirit from her body after Beren's death. Small wonder that Gildor was so despondent, especially as, in his eyes, he had failed to protect Zaba.
Glorfindel could think of a great many things he had better not tell Gildor right now, while it was hard to find words that would be more than a cold, bleak truth. 'The power of the Eldar resides in memory,' he offered. 'While you live, Zaba will live in you,' - which ought to be an incentive to remain alive - '...but maybe you consider this small consolation?'
'And what if I do?' Gildor was still gazing into the distance. 'What else could you say to comfort me? I have a part in her death.'
'You do not. The Ciryatur has her blood on his hands. You could not have prevented him from killing her. Ultimately, you could not have prevented her from following our army or riding to the Númenorean camp or entering that pavilion, except by robbing her of her freedom - one of the things we fight for.' Though it can lead us into ddisaster, Glorfindel thought, recalling the history of the Noldor and their flight from Aman. His own history. 'To claim that you could and should have prevented her death,' he finished, perhaps more sternly than he had intended, 'is to deny your own limitations. A thin disguise for pride.'
'I was asking for comfort,' Gildor muttered after a rather long silence, 'not waiting to be rebuked.'
'Yes, you were.' Glorfindel left it to the other to decide how to interpret this. He looked down at his hands and at the reins they held before seeking Gildor's face again. 'I shall be honest. There is little more that I can think of to tell you, mellon, save this alone: that you could ask yourself how best to honour her memory.'
The question whether he could have refrained from killing the bastard girl had been lurking in a corner of his mind. Once he removed the ring from his finger it reared its head again.
He was not too sorry to be rid of her. Zaba had caused a great deal of embarrassment and, given the opportunity, would have caused a great deal more. Moreover, the girl had been about to lay hands on Tar Minastir's admiral, the most powerful Man currently dwelling in Middle-earth.
On the other hand, stabbing her to death had been overkill, and the Elves had already guessed that he had the ring before he drew his blade. That was also the main reason why he had let them take the young sailor back to the Elvenking. That, and the fact that Beregar's sorry hide was no longer worth squabbling over. Beregar could tell his Elven friends whatever he liked; it did not matter. Their king could not act on conjecture. He could not even rightly claim the ring. And even if he sent people to search both the admiral and his tent, they would find nothing.
But the knifing... the Ciryatur sighed. He hated to think of himself as a butcher. He preferred not to feel ashamed of himself, not even a little bit. This kill had been as primitive and uncivilised as it was messy. Though he had washed the gore from his hand and wiped the dagger, his surcoat was still damp with blood. Fortunately it was made of dark blue wool. At the moment, he did not feel like changing.
He gazed at the piece of jewellery in his palm; was this the real reason why he had killed? It was heavy and seemed to throb like an infected finger.
Beregar had spoken the truth. There had been a voice talking inside his mind while he wore it, a very civilised, cultured, rational voice. It belonged to someone styling himself 'Lord of Gifts' and identifying himself as the leader of the opposing army. This Annatar, who modestly claimed to be Lord of Arda, deeply regretted the needless hostility the Elvenfolk displayed towards him, and deplored their inability to understand the despair of mortal Men in the face of death.
He, Annatar, did understand their desperate fear of the void beyond the circles of this world, their one and only. He had looked into it himself, nearly having been thrust into it by the Powers of the West - those same Powers that cared only for Elves. It was asking too much of mortals to lie back meekly and close their eyes, knowing that the Firstborn would live on and on.
That was why the Lord of Gifts had forged life in the form of rings. Rings were round; they stood for containment, for perfect order, for the Circles of the World itself - but being without end they symbolised nothing as much as life unceasing. Yet his rings were more that that: in them, symbol and symbolised were one, and this was a source of great power. No doubt a highborn son of the Land of the Gift would understand such a deep truth better than most. It would be best if they met to discuss this face to face, Eye to eye. Then, everything would be explained to the Númenorean lord's full satisfaction, and he would be made privy to mysteries that he had never dreamt of.
Would the lord Annatar be so kind to explain, the Ciryatur inquired politely, why he had attacked the Elven-realms of Eriador?
He would. The Elves had welcomed him to their forges and greedily embraced the knowledge he had offered them. Using this knowledge they had crafted rings of their own, imbuing them with the powers of life and growth, of nourishment and preservation. But they had shown themselves ungrateful. They had begrudged him their own, Elvish lore, guarding their secrets like Dwarves would guard their private names - because he had wrought rings for other races, too, races they deemed beneath them. As one of them had said once, no other race should oust them. That was when, sadly, Annatar had decided that the Elves were a curse to Middle-earth, and a malediction. It was a pity that the Númenorean rulers did not yet perceive this, but he trusted that in time they would come to understand.
Contrary to Beregar's claims, the Lord of Gifts did not make treacherous suggestions. No calls to kill the Noldorin King, or to send the Númenorean cavalry charging into the Elvish ranks. But as it was imperative that the Ciryatur acknowledge Annatar in person, it were better if the hostilities did not get in the way of their encounter. 'If you see what I mean.'
Of course he did. At that point, the Ciryatur had told the Lord of Gifts that he would ponder this alluring proposal. But it was time to march on now, if only to bridge the distance that separated them. Annatar's voice and words had been pleasant enough, but the Ciryatur did not care for him to meddle with his mind any more than he cared for the Golden Witch to do so. He had pulled the ring from his finger.
When he did, his hand had felt strangely naked and much too light.
1)Apologies for the far-fetched references to William Blake. But it could have been worse. I could have let Tárion mention his arrows of desire, or something.
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